Backstory

backstory headingFor Sunday, September 15, 2019

 

Lectionary Readings

Numbers 21:4-9  • Exodus 32:7-14  •  Psalm 51:1-10; 78:34-38  •  Jeremiah 4:4-9 

I Timothy 1:12-17  •  John 3:13-17  •  Luke 15:1-10 (C)

Backstory

A People, A Prophet, and God

Exodus 32:7-14 – After the people had experienced God’s act of freeing them from slavery in Egypt, parting the sea, constantly providing, naming them his ‘treasured possession’ and instructing them to be ‘a priestly kingdom and holy nation’, and, after he gave the commandments which began with ‘You shall have no other gods before me’, the people turned from God to other gods.  While Moses was on the mountain speaking with God, the people became impatient waiting for Moses and built an idol like they had in slavery. A heated debate between Moses and God, in response to the actions of the people, ensues.

Numbers 21:4-9 – Once again we see these same people failing to remember God.  This account takes place after the people have proven they did not trust God enough to enter the Promised Land and are now wandering in the desert until the next generation is grown.  Much like most of us, this group of humans are frequently unpleasant to be around – the become dissatisfied with Moses’ leadership and God’s provisions.  They complain about Moses and God.

Hopelessness with Hope

Jeremiah 4:11-28 – We have been looking at the persistent refusal of the people (centuries after entry into the Promised Land) to turn back to God.  Through the warnings of the prophet of Isaiah, and then Jeremiah, the people have refused to see and hear what God is communicating through these prophets.  Instead, they have continued a false Godless religion while progressively turning to the untruths of the politicians, religious leaders, and false prophets who who say things much more pleasant to hear.  Now, the time for cautions and warnings has come to an end.  It is the end of opportunities, and God is not changing his mind, however, his proclamation of doom comes also with a promised hope.

And then there is Joy

Luke 15:1-10 – Jesus is surrounded by religious leaders who are complaining and grumbling about the company that Jesus keeps.  They cannot grasp the fact that he is hanging around with ‘undesirables’.  Jesus responds to their negativity by pointing them to the Joy of God which he desires for us to have in our lives.

Joy Revealed

Psalm 51:1-10 – Our responsive reading this Sunday focuses on the personal experience of Joy that takes place in our own life when we turn back to God. In this Psalm, written by David, we see his recognition of his sin and need for reconciliation with God. It is an experience of repentance, joy, and hope.

Cornelius the Bat

corneliusOne evening, when our kids were younger, we went on an early evening family walk along our favorite path.  The path travels across a tree-lined bridge, through a historic neighborhood where the WPA stamps are still visible on the worn sidewalks, and, finally, to the University campus where wide sidewalks make for unlimited running and horseplay. The only problem with this path are the Oklahoma mosquitos and the occasional bats flying overhead.

While the mosquitos are a constant, the bats are actually a rarity.  Nevertheless, their infrequent appearances do seem to be a bigger bother than the hordes of blood-sucking mosquitos.  I think the reason we have such a disdain for the bats is that they are an unknown. They are the creepy, gross, and unclean.

Every time we went on a walk, any sign of the creepy, gross, and unclean bats would be met with moans of discontent and disapproval.  Regardless of the possibility they were addressing the mosquito issue, we still looked at them with disgust and were fully aware that the bats were out to get us and everything that we held holy.

On this particular walk, on this beautiful spring night, our greatest dread became a reality. Waiting for us as, we approached the bridge under the umbrella of leaf filled tree limbs, was a bat laying in the middle of the path. As we charted a path around the creepy, gross and unclean bat our overly compassionate kids became concerned.  They were soon bending over the bat and even kneeling at a safe distance to determine why this bat was not creeping us out from above.  As they determined the bat was a wounded baby, they insisted we move him off the trail.  We carefully, and respectfully, moved the bat and continued our walk.

Little did Andrea and I know that Pandora’s box had been opened.  The bat was no longer a creepy, gross and unclean creature bent on annihilating our very existence.  The label ‘creepy, gross and unclean’ had been replace with ‘baby’, ’cute’ and ‘in need of our humanity’ labels.

As we continued with our walk and enjoyed the beauty of trees, history, and horseplay little was mentioned about the bat.  We expressed our hated of the mosquitoes but the bat seemed to have been forgotten.

As we approached the bridge on our return home, our youngest, Isaiah, began to run ahead announcing that he was going to go check on Cornelius.  Andrea and I looked at each other wondering who he was talking about. As we called out the question, he yelled back that he had named the baby bat “Cornelius”. I had actually preached on Cornelius that morning and was elated that somebody had heard something that I said.  I had not, however, consider the possibility that a challenge of my dearly held labels would be the takeaway from my own child.

But, labels were being challenged. A feared bat was now a hurting baby with a name. There was no way the bat was going to be put back into the category of creepy, gross, and unclean.  The creepiest, and grossest, and most unclean thing on our favorite walk could no longer be labeled with the easiest and most negative identifier in our arsenal. 

Even though the bat has since disappeared, we continue to remember Cornelius.  We don’t remember him as a frightening and creepy bat, but instead, a hurting part of creation. It was the moment our labels were challenged.  Instead of a label, as it usually happens, a child gave him a name.  No longer ‘Gross, Creepy, and Unclean’, now he was ‘Cornelius’. 

cornelius name tagThis year, as I arrived, once again, at the Cornelius passage, I couldn’t help but remember Cornelius the bat.  It has led me to rethink the true lesson and application of the story of the apostle Peter.  The Father sent a message to Peter which had to be repeated three times before he grasped the meaning. A revelation explaining that there are no creepy, gross, or unclean beings created by God; a message that taught Peter to put away labels. The story details Peter learning something about a man whom he had considered outside of the love of God; a man who was surely gross, creepy, and unclean. Peter soon learned that this man had a name – Cornelius. Putting aside his deeply engrained tendency of sticking labels on people, Peter sat down instead, and shared space with this individual who was no longer creepy, gross, and unclean.  Cornelius now had a name, instead of a label – Peter now had a new friend along with a much richer, and more honest, understanding of God and God’s grace.